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Parents at Fairland want levy

PROCTORVILLE — A parent group in the Fairland School District has begun a hard-hitting campaign to garner support for a levy that would fund a new athletic complex at the high school.

“We are going full-steam ahead with having a special election for this levy,” said Bobbie Young, one of founders of the grassroots movement. “This is going to be something that we do as a community with the board’s backing. We want to go door-to-door and be able to give out the facts and figures.”

The board of education has not given its approval for the levy or a special election, which would cost them about $10,000 to $12,000. The levy would need to be approved by mid-October to be put on the ballot for a special election in February.

The discussion of the levy came during a meeting that was scheduled as a board of education meeting Thursday morning. However, none of the board members were in attendance. Superintendent Jerry McConnell took the opportunity instead to meet with parents for nearly two hours about the possibility of a special election and the proposed levy.

According to preliminary figures from district treasurer Terri Baker, a 1.36-mil levy would need to be passed to fund the multi-million dollar project — the district is reluctant to release exactly how much it will cost. This would mean someone with a house appraised at $100,000 would pay about $47 more in taxes if the levy passed, Baker estimated.

Property owners are already paying for the school upgrades. In 1998, they voted in favor of a 4.02-mil levy that was reduced to 2.88 mils a few years later.

A previous levy for a new athletic complex failed in 2004. The 15-year, 2.6-mil bond levy was voted down by about 1,500 votes.

The football stadium was built in the early 1970s. Everyone in attendance at Thursday’s meeting said its replacement is long overdue. McConnell said its lack of handicap-accessibility is one of its major problems. The concession stand, restrooms, and wooden bleachers are also in need constant repairs, they said.

“We frequently inspect the stadium and are constantly doing upkeep to keep it safe. We do whatever we can to keep it clean and appropriate,” the superintendent said. “But, are aware of the seriousness of the situation.”

McConnell said he and the other board members support a new athletic complex — as they have in the past — but he is not sure how much the district will be able to pitch in for the project.

There is a misconception in the community, he said, that the district has a lot of money that it is sitting on. But, that is far from the truth, according to the superintendent. The district has $4 million in its general operating budget, but it is using that to pay for teachers’ raises and resource materials, to upgrade computers, software and facilities and to pay for other operating expenses, McConnell explained.

Baker said the $4 million is all it will receive through state funds for low-income districts, a designation that Fairland no longer has.

“We are looking at our financial situation before we can commit to how much money we can appropriate for the project,” he said. “The board will work hard to provide whatever support it can.”

But, he said, he remains focused on the education of the district’s children and providing the resources to keep Fairland’s reputation as one of the top schools in the region.

“We want to get a new stadium,” McConnell said. “We don’t want a Taj Mahal or anything like that and we are not trying to keep up with other districts. We just want a safe facility that will benefit the students and the community.”

Matt Manns, a member of the parent committee pushing for the levy, said neither he nor the other parents he has talked to want academics to suffer, they just want their facilities to be up to par. He said the dilapidated stadium is a “black eye” on the district.

Young agreed. She said the district has high test scores and state-of-the art facilities, but the stadium needs to be the final piece of the puzzle.

The board has not discussed the levy or a special election during any meeting it has had, but the parents are confident that the issue will be up for vote in February.

“We are ready to go. We are going to hit the streets and get the community involved as much as we can,” Young said. “This is needed for the kids.”